LET THE CHILDREN PLAY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The title of an article I read in the Washington Post on September 16, 2018, by Katherine Marsh, sets out its primary argument pretty clearly. “ We’ve so over-scheduled our kids that doctors are now prescribing playtime.” The article is subtitled “We idiotically insist that all of their activities be purposeful and structured.”

micromanaging parent

To give some perspective, an American who lived in Brussels for three years, contrasts her child’s school experience in Belgium and America. In the Brussels school, the kids had 50 minutes of recess every day plus a 20-minute mid-morning break. This time was unstructured, free play with minimal teacher supervision. In the Washington, D.C. school, the kids had just 20 minutes of recess. And some American schools only provide fifteen minutes.

By the time the kids get their coats on and get outside, there is almost no time left for relaxed, creative play.

The American Academy of Pediatricians seem so concerned about over structured kids, they released a report emphasizing the developmental importance of free, unsupervised play for kids. It stresses that growth and discovery are more likely to occur in kids when they are not being micro-managed.

The Academy went so far as to suggest that doctors write ‘prescriptions’ for playtime when they see young children during regular checkups.

American parents seem to think that every moment of a child’s life needs to be purposeful and educational. The reason for this may be that parents feel very competitive about their children because of anxiety over their offspring’s economic prospects when they grow up. American parents will apparently brag about their kindergarten child’s reading prowess but be unconcerned that the same child has no clue how to play with other kids, or by herself.

Of course, everyone wants their children to grow up to be motivated, purposeful, successful adults. But parents seem to have lost sight of the fact that to reach that goal, children need to play and imagine and invent activities on their own. That in itself helps kids grow and develop the skills and traits we want them to have. Not everything a child does has to directly lead to future skills or benefits.

“True play is freedom from purpose,” says Katherine Marsh. And this downtime is an important part of every child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

TEENAGE SEXUAL ASSAULT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated to the Supreme Court and has been accused of attempted rape as a seventeen year old. This has precipitated a national debate over acceptable teenage behavior.

Bett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump

Kavanaugh’s enablers have several, typical defenses for him. He was a hormone filled boy and boys will be boys – so he’s not responsible for his behavior. He was a teenager and we all know they have no judgment and can’t be held responsible for what they do. Or the favorite – he was blind drunk so of course, he can’t be responsible for his behavior.

Excessive alcohol at teenage parties

What are we telling our teenagers? We tell the boys “you have a free pass until legal adulthood.” To the girls, we say “avoid teenage boys unless you want to be raped and have no recourse, legal, or social protection.”

Aren’t we supposed to be training teenagers to be responsible adults? I understand their brains are not fully developed, their impulses are not under full control. Their judgment is still a work in progress.

Regardless, we still should be teaching them and holding them to society’s standards, like decency and respect for others. They may fail to achieve these standards all the time, but the standards still have to be there, as goals to strive for.

We have generations of twenty-somethings still living with parents, not making a living wage, and socially isolated. Maybe that’s, in part, because we don’t ask them to grow up while they are teenagers. Maybe they absorb the message that they’re not responsible for their behavior, their achievements, or their lives. When that message is internalized, it’s hard to flick a switch and suddenly have kids who are motivated, moral, and goal-oriented adults.

This is a bigger problem than sexual misconduct in teenage boys. In addition to absolving boys of responsibility for egregious and unacceptable behavior, it teaches them toxic attitudes to women that often follow them throughout their lives. They are taught to dehumanize and disrespect women.

If a boy wants sex, he can just do what Trump does – grab them by the pussy! If she doesn’t kick him in the nuts, he can do what he wants with her body. If she complains afterward, he can just say she asked for it, she wanted it, or she’s lying and it never happened. Take your pick.

Boys are seeing that this bullshit works. Women who say “NO” are either not being heard, or not being believed. Girls are seeing they are powerless – victims of a male-oriented sexual culture. These are not the attitudes we want in our young adults.

Why should we tolerate them in our teenagers?

High school is difficult enough for girls without having to worry about being a victim of sexual assault. The odds are too many high school girls will experience some form of sexual harassment. Most girls will never report it because they know they will be attacked and pilloried if they do.

So we are fostering a sense of entitlement in boys and an acceptance of victimhood and powerlessness in girls. These are really bad lessons to be teaching our kids. We are also creating a nationwide “us-against-them” situation between men and women.

How we handle high school sexual misconduct can have huge ramifications throughout our culture. Maybe this spotlight on the issue can give us a chance to recalibrate our attitudes. Maybe it will motivate us to train our teenagers to become responsible adults and citizens.

ONCE UPON A TIME … – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Erratic

Once upon a time, I was a total wacko. That is not an exaggeration. In my late teens, I was nuts. Big time.

Fortunately, by the time I hit my twenties, I had settled a lot of my hash. If I wasn’t exactly “normal,” I was no longer completely loony tunes. As the years have rolled on, I have become more “normal” and less crazy until these days, I’m about as normal as I will ever be. So far, so good which is really the story of my life.

I am not particularly erratic. I am, if anything, a bit inclined towards doing being extra careful. I write with great courage, but I walk with utmost care.

I don’t know if this is how life goes for others who started out pretty wild and weird. I have gone through periods of serious depression and with some good psychiatric talk therapy, found ways to climb out of them. I also learned to control a lot of the mind muck that used to turn me into a mental tar pit.

One shrink pointed out to me that depression wasn’t just a feeling. It was a reaction to life, that it could become habitual. You are depressed because you are always depressed and that is how you see yourself, understand yourself.

And from that point, because he hit a nerve with that observation, I began to be happier. I stopped looking for the dark places and started hearing joyful music.

It probably helped that I was madly in love with Garry.

No, you can’t have him. He’s mine.

WHINING AND RESIGNING – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m not going to do it. I want to. I need a good whine. .

Because we all have days like this. The kind of day when by the end of it, you want to resign. Not from blogging, but from the humanity. I want to just throw it all in and hide. Permanently.

Whatever that means. 

Yet I know I will feel better, if not tomorrow, than very soon. At which point, all the whining will just be embarrassing.

Meanwhile, gotta tell ya — there are days when it totally doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Of course, those are exactly the days when you have no choice because there’s so much you need to do. Today is going to be nasty, too.

Today was the kind of day when it feels as if no matter what you do, someone is fighting you. Everything is a battle. Nothing goes smoothly. You get disconnected a dozen times. You’re on the phone forever and in the end, banging your head into the wall sounds like a healthy alternative to everything else you’ve done that day.

But, I am not resigning from humanity. For one thing, I’m not sure to whom I’d hand the resignation. For another, after resigning, what’s next? Can I become one of my dogs?

I guess I’ll hang around.

I’m not going to give you the details. Even thinking about writing it makes me want to scream.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

A lot has been written about dieting and body image. What interests me is how we develop our body image in childhood and how this image haunts us through life.

Here’s an innocuous example. I’m short. Very short. I’m less than 5’1” tall. So it would be reasonable to assume that “short” would be part of my innate body image. But it’s not. I’m constantly surprised when I stand next to normal sized people and realize how much bigger they are than I am. I believe this is because I grew early and stopped growing early.

I’m third from the left, in first grade

Therefore, in my formative years, I was one of the taller kids in the class. When we lined up by size in first grade, I was near the back of the line next to a girl named Liz. Liz grew to be about 5’8” tall. I barely noticed as the years went by and everyone else continued to grow and I didn’t. It didn’t hit me until one day, in sixth grade, I realized that I was at the front of the line next to my peanut sized friend, Cathy. How did that happen? As a result, I’ve never thought of myself as small. I’m still bemused when people comment on how tiny I am.

Me with Tom, Marilyn and Garry in 2016 (Marilyn is short too)

My mother illustrates the more pernicious affects of childhood perceptions. She was adorable as a child but had a thick, black uni-brow. Insensitive parents and family members referred to her as “the ugly one”, in Yiddish. At the age of 13, she blossomed into a true beauty. This is not just an adoring daughter talking.

My mother was scheduled to go to Hollywood in the 1940’s for a screen test. She didn’t go because she got a severe case of Rheumatic fever that permanently damaged her heart. But throughout her adult life, no matter how many people told her how beautiful she was, her image of herself was always as the ugly duckling. She always felt totally inadequate physically.

My mom at about two years old

When I was growing up, my insecure mom overemphasized the importance of looks to me. This made me very self-conscious about my appearance. She often told me that she didn’t understand how women who were not thin and beautiful ever got husbands.

Ellin – NOT looking short!

It’s no wonder that it was only in my 50’s that I felt confident to go out of the house without makeup on – ever! Even to the supermarket. I always wore makeup at home as well, even when I was alone with my husband, until recently with husband number two.

It’s liberating to be able to finally feel acceptable without cosmetic enhancement.

One of Mom’s theater head shots. She was in her early twenties.

I believe that the self-image that is imprinted on us early in life stays with us forever. Extended therapy can improve the situation and strengthen the ego.

I think that it’s crucial for parents to make sure that their kids leave home with a positive body image. Too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance early on. So too many children, including me, grow up thinking that being beautiful is synonymous with being accepted, valued and loved.

Mom in her early fifties – still beautiful

We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, whether we’re good looking in a conventional way or not; whether we’re skinny or “big-boned”, or whether we’re male or female. Neither of my children have serious body issues. I’m not sure if that is because of me or in spite of me.

Personally, I wish I could “do-over” my childhood and de-emphasize the physical. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life as obsessed with looking “good” all the time.

Mom and me in 2002 – I’m 52 and Mom is 85

NO TIME TO SLEEP – Marilyn Armstrong

Brain to Marilyn: Hey, get up. I’ve got stuff to do.

Marilyn to Brain: Shut up. I’m tired. Let me sleep or I swear I’ll take a pill and shut you down.

Brain (sullen): Fine. Be that way.

Marilyn drifts off to sleep for half an hour.

Brain: How about that dream I sent you eh?

Marilyn: That was horrible. Why did you do that?

Brain: I thought it was cool the way I turned butterflies into flying monsters. You didn’t like it?

Marilyn: No, I did not like it. And right now, I don’t like you.

Brain to Marilyn: Logic and Emotion are going at it again. Wow, this one’s a real knock down drag out fight. Loud, huh.

Marilyn to Logic and Emotion: If you guys don’t cut it out, I’m going to stop this car and you are both getting a time-out.

Logic and Emotion in chorus: HE STARTED IT MOM!

Marilyn to Logic and Emotion: I don’t care who started it. SHUT UP! I need sleep!

Logic and Emotion together (meekly): Sorry Mom. Don’t be mad …

Brain to Marilyn: I have a message from Spine. She says you need to take something for pain. Spine is unhappy.

Marilyn to Brain: Spine is always unhappy.

Brain to Marilyn: Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, and Bladder needs a trip to the bathroom.

Marilyn: Oh fine.

Muttering all the way, Marilyn gets up, hauls self to bathroom. Comes back with Tylenol. Takes pills, crawls into bed pulling covers over head. Sighs and settles into the embrace of the most comfortable bed in the world.

Brain to Marilyn: Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a story! How about you write about our morning chats, huh? Wouldn’t that be neat? Come on, get up before you forget everything. Lazy daisy get your butt outta bed.

Marilyn to Brain: I haven’t had 6 hours of sleep yet. I’m too tired to write.

Brain to Marilyn: You are never too tired to write! Get up, get up, it’s morning.

Sounds: Dogs howling, yapping, more howling.

Marilyn: Can you make the dogs shut up?

Brain: Sorry, no direct access to doggie brains.

Marilyn to Brain: Okay. You win. I’m up, I’m up. Coffee. I hope we aren’t out of half and half. I’m never going to get a whole night’s sleep. I’m going to die of permanent, chronic sleep deprivation. I hope you are all proud of yourselves.

The mournful howl of canines is heard in the background. Day has begun. Soon there will be coffee and all will be well. Tired, but well.

Conference!

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 4

This is the final part of a four-part series. You can read the others here: Part I, Part 2, Part 3.


Stress

Everyday stress is a killer. Literally.

The greatest damage from stress is caused by excessive triggering of the fight-or flight (stress) response. These throw your entire system into high gear on a chemical and biological level. Your system is designed to handle no more than a few fight-or-flight responses a week.

silhouette cactus

Instead, our modern world bombards us with more than fifty such (brief) episodes each day. Over time, this unrelenting stress wears down and damages every part of your body in some way.

Your body can’t distinguish between minor, everyday stress and those which threaten life and loved ones. So we respond to all stressors as if they were charging tigers.

Moreover, your body doesn’t distinguish between physical threats which require action, and psychological threats which require thought or a verbal response — or potential threats which are worries about the future and don’t even yet (or maybe ever) exist.

Thoughts alone can trigger a full blown, physiological stress reaction throughout your body. Your body “believes” your thoughts are real.

If you think about a fight you recently had or might have, your system reacts as if you were having the fight now! The good news is you can trick your unconscious, internal systems into thinking you are sitting on the beach with a tall, cold drink in hand.

This is what gives visualization and mindfulness such power.

The key is visualizing in detail. To demonstrate the power of thoughts and images on your body, close your eyes and imagine, in vivid detail, that you are eating a lemon. Soon your mouth will begin to pucker. You will start to salivate. Your stomach will start secreting the fluids to digest a lemon. Your mind will have tricked your body into thinking you were eating a lemon.

Visualization

72-Sunrise-022716_03

This is a visualization you can tailor to your mood and whatever time you have available:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine yourself in a place you love — the woods, the beach, or some place which holds special meaning for you.
  3. Make sure it’s a place where you feel secure, safe, comfortable, and happy.
  4. Focus on the details of your imagined scene.
  5. Work with each of your senses, one at a time. Focus on everything you see. Colors. Shapes. Light. Shadows.
  6. Work from the ground up.
  7. Focus on the sounds around you, including the silence.
  8. Take a few deep breaths, then tune into the smells. Allow scents to trigger positive emotions.
  9. Focus on the variety of textures around you. Imagine yourself touching the items in your environment – smooth, rough, hard, soft, and so on.
  10. Focus on any movement in the scene you have created for yourself. Clouds in the sky, waves in the ocean.
  11. Finally imagine doing something you love in your mental oasis. Put your feet in a lake. Ski down a mountain. Play with a pet.
  12. Continue the experience until you feel a sense of peace and well-being.

Gradually ease yourself back into your day focusing on your breath, then the sensations in the room. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and take another deep, abdominal breath.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a slightly different way to focus on the present moment. Focusing on the present decreases tension and stress. It increases your enjoyment of life. You can give your body and mind a mini-vacation from worry about the past and the future, and reduce the damage stress can do over time.

Schubert Theater boston night

You can practice mindfulness while you are doing anything from washing dishes or folding laundry, to walking upstairs or even eating.

All you need do is spend a few minutes focusing on the details and sensations of the moment. Use all of your senses, one at a time.

Mindful eating is a good exercise for beginners. For example, while eating an orange you can focus on the color and roughness of the skin and the different colors and shapes of the segments. Then focus on the feel of the rind, pulp and juice on your hands, face, lips and tongue and the sensations in your mouth, throat and stomach as you bite, chew and swallow. Then turn to the smell and the taste of each bite and how they change as you go through the process of eating. Come back to the real world slowly and focus on abdominal breathing for a few moments before you get on with your day.

Aggravation

Life is aggravating. It just is. You can’t completely eliminate everyday annoyances or anxiety, so be prepared to change how your body reacts to them. I’ve explained abdominal breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, mindful walking, visualization, and mindfulness. All these techniques can reduce the level of stress stored up in your body and mind. Using these can dramatically improve the quality of your life.

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Do what you can, whenever you can for as long as you can. Just … do something. No matter how small, anything you do will protect you and help heal your mind and body. In the process, you’ll develop skills which will serve you well in the future by allowing you to take control of your responses to the stress life inevitably brings.